Monday, June 30, 2008

Running in Place

The 2008 OSU baseball season was mostly disappointing. For that reason, this season recap will be quite perfunctory compared to others that I have written. I do not like to dwell on the failures of teams that I actually care about. If I was to write a post-mortem for the Indians, I would do it wholeheartedly; sure, I would have liked to see them do better, but it really doesn’t bother me that they are now in last place as I write this. I take the Bucks’ shortcomings much harder.

Of course, I should point out up front that it wasn’t that bad; it was bad only in the framework of the high expectations for OSU athletics--OSU finished with an overall record of 30-26 to run the streak of consecutive winning seasons to 21, tied for the fifteenth longest streak in the nation. The Bucks went 15-15 in Big Ten play to finish in fifth place.

The season started well enough--three mediocre opponents were swept the first weekend, then Ohio took one of three from a tough group of teams (the win was against Louisiana Tech). However, the annual week-long spring break trip to Bradenton, usually an opportunity to beat up on lesser opponents while easing young players into action, was a major disappointment. The Bucks went just 5-4 on the trip.

In mid-week games against non-conference opponents, OSU was 6-3; not terrible, but usually only one or two of those games would be dropped in a given campaign. The conference portion of the schedule was dead average as was aforementioned: 15-15.

In the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes were unable to make a run to the championship as they did in 2005 and 2007. Instead, they were swept right out, with disappointing losses to Illinois (3-2) and Indiana (10-8 in 10).

The final overall (all games, not just conference) records show OSU fourth with a .536 W%, second with a .586 EW%, and fourth with a .521 PW%.

The single most fundamental problem with the Buckeyes over the last several years has been a lack of power. This reached critical levels this year, as OSU managed just 19 homers, their lowest total since 1980. OSU led the Big Ten with a .318 BA, and the W/AB of .116 was just a tad above average, resulting in a solid .389 OBA (second in the league by just a point). But in ISO, the Bucks ranked last at .093. The lack of secondary offense left Ohio State with 6.6 runs/game versus an average of 6.5.

Individually, junior 1B Justin Miller paced the Bucks by hitting 395/442/535, +15 runs above average. Junior CF/P JB Shuck, a sixth round pick of the Astros, hit 356/431/420, +10. Senior LF Tony Kennedy led the team with a .274 SEC and was +6 runs, while sophomore 2B Cory Kovanda emerged as a walking machine, drawing 37 in just 182 at bats, +6. Sophomore 3B Brian DeLucia was an encouraging +4, albeit in only 71 PA.

On the flip side, other regulars or semi-regulars included sophomore 3B/SS Cory Rupert and sophomore CF Zach Hurley (each -1, although both step forwards from freshman campaigns); freshman DH Ryan Meade (-7); sophomore RF Ryan Dew (-8); freshman C Dan Burkhart (-8); and freshman SS Tyler Engle (-12). I never quite understood why Rupert did not play shortstop with DeLucia at third, considering that Engle’s bat was not ready for full-time collegiate play (or at least did not appear to be in the small sample size of a college season; that should always be kept in mind, and really should go without saying, but there it is).

OSU’s team RA was 6.12, good for fourth in the conference. What the pitching staff lacked in brilliance, it made up for in depth--there have been few seasons in recent memory in which Bob Todd used such a wide array of pitchers. Of course, some of that may have been out of necessity due to the average-type performances.

The aforementioned Shuck was +16 runs in his final go-around, making him the easy choice for team MVP when coupled with his excellent offense and manning of a key defensive position (CF). Senior SP Dan DeLucia (a 35th round choice of the Tigers) recovered admirably from Tommy John surgery, turning in a +10 campaign. Freshman Dean Wolosiansky emerged as a third reliable starter at +7, while junior Jake Hale turned in a +5 season, although his performance could be considered a bit discouraging for the player given the #1 pitching assignment. Nonetheless, OSU boasted four solid starters, a refreshing change from 2007 when injuries resulted in a mess.

OSU had a decent but frustrating pair of relievers: sophomore lefty Eric Best was the nominal closer, + 5 runs, but he walked 25 in 35 innings (while fanning 33). Freshman righty Alex Wimmers seemed to be his mirror image (in the handedness sense)--+6 runs, but with a 51/31 K/W in 40 innings. Behind them, true freshman reliever Drew Rucinski and starter/reliever Andrew Armstrong (the most common mid-week starter) were average. Sophomore lefty Josh Edgin made no progress from his freshman season (-8 RAA, although his 6.2 eRA was better than average), and senior Rory Meister had a disastrous end to his career which had started as a dominating freshman closer (25 runs in 14 innings, -15).

In the end, OSU had an average season, which is a below-average season for a program of its caliber. Unlike the last two such seasons, the Buckeyes were not able to win a championship in the Big Ten tournament to push the final evaluation of the campaign into the “success” column. However, that has been the exception rather than the rule for Bob Todd’s team, and the program is not in bad shape. It’s just not in the excellent shape it had been in for so many years prior.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Run Estimation Stuff, pt. 2

In this installment I will derive Base Run equations based on the 1960-2004 linear weights (based on Tom Ruane’s work) introduced in the last segment. I will present four different BsR versions here, which is admittedly a bit of overkill. They will each follow a slightly different approach to the BsR model. First, we need to recall that BsR is A*B/(B + C) + D. The A factor is baserunners, the B factor is advancement, the C factor is outs, and the D factor is guaranteed runs.

There are a number of different ways to define each factor. Starting with A, we could look at A as “initial baserunners” or “final baserunners”. Initial baserunners would include all runners who reached base, or, since we are only dealing with the official categories here, H + W - HR + HB. This counts all of the runners that we know have reached base, and ignores any knowledge that we have about what happened once they were on base.

The final baserunner approach starts from the same count, but then removes the baserunners we know were put out on base. There are two categories in the official stats that tell us a runner was retired on base: CS and DP (grounded into double play, but I have referred to them simply as DP throughout the series). So final baserunners would be figured as H + W - HR + HB - CS - DP.

Now we can move on to C, a factor that is usually defined as batting outs, which in this case would be AB - H + SH + SF. It could also be set up as all outs, which would be AB - H + SH + SF + CS + DP. Then you could mix and match the two versions of C with the two versions of A. So there will be one version that is initial baserunners with batting outs, one that is initial baserunners with all outs, etc. Again, this most definitely is overkill, but I think it will be interesting to take a look at the results either way, and you can choose whichever one you want (most people who have gone before have used the initial baserunner, batting out approach, and if I had to recommend just one, I would agree with that choice).

D as guaranteed runs is usually glossed over as simply being equal to home runs, but that is not inevitable. It is true, for instance, that SF are a case in the official stats for which we know for a fact that a run was scored, and SF could be included in guaranteed runs. This approach could eventually lead to some absurdities; if the record-keeping was as detailed for all events as it is for SF, we could eventually have categories like “1-RBI singles”, “2-RBI doubles”, “1-RBI triples”, and we would end up with an equation that said Runs = Runs.

Taking the opposition to SF in the D factor a step farther, the general argument can also be used against the inclusion of a situational event like a SF or DP at all. After all, sacrifice flies are simply a subcategory of flyouts, and double plays of groundouts. The record keepers have not deemed to give us such minute breakdowns with other categories--as Tango Tiger has pointed out, events like caught stealing include cases in which there is actually no out recorded, and batting outs include reached on error, etc.

However, given that the data does exist, there are some people who want to utilize it. Also, the technical versions of Runs Created, which ideally would be supplanted by Base Runs, use this data, and so those users would presumably want a replacement equation based on the same inputs. For those who prefer the more granular approach, Tango Tiger’s full BsR version has already done the heavy lifting for you.

In addition to the potential for using SF as a D input, one could also go through and add fractional values for guaranteed runs on other events. For example, there will be some proportion of triples that result in runs due to an error that allows the batter to score. One could have these fractional categories in A, C, or D factors. For example, Tango Tiger’s full BsR version counts 8% of SH towards A, as around 8% of batters credited with a sacrifice reach base safely. Another example is that one could put a fractional weight on CS in C, because not all CS result in outs. Leaving aside the question of how an estimate of “X% of triples result in runs” fits into a factor I’ve billed as “guaranteed runs” (obviously the words used to define the category can be finessed), I will just sidestep the whole issue by saying I have not dealt with fractional weights anywhere (except of course in B). That doesn’t mean that it would be illegitimate to due so.

Finally, we come back around to B, which I glossed over the first time. B is usually considered to be the nebulous “advancement”, but it can also be looked at as the balancing part of the formula, where the values of events are forced into line with what we know them to be for an average team. Since we have already established the formulas and values for A, C, and D, we can calculate the B factor necessary to force the linear weights to the long-term averages derived in the last post, and repeated here:

LW = .460S + .756D + 1.037T + 1.405HR + .304(W - IW) + .174IW + .329HB + .192SB - .260CS - .068(AB - H - DP - K) - .107K - .459DP + .071SH + .154SF

I have described the process for doing this several times, and will not further clutter this page by doing it again, but here is a link to the BsR page in Tango Tiger’s wiki, where it is covered. Now, let me define four different BsR formulas (with their naming style in homage to Bill James) that we are going to look at, and the component they use (A, B, C, D):

Full-1: iA, B, bC, HR

Full-2: iA, B, aC, HR

Full-3: fA, B, bC, HR

Full-4: fA, B, aC, HR


iA = H + W - HR + HB (initial baserunners)

fA = H + W - HR + HB - CS - DP (final baserunners)

bC = AB - H + SH + SF (batting outs)

aC = AB - H + SH + SF + CS + DP (all outs)

Writing out the formulas for each of the resulting B factors would be very cumbersome, so I have put them in chart form:

You may notice some oddities in the B weights as you peruse the table. Most problematic is that the walk coefficient is negative. This obviously will cause a whole bunch of problems for theoretical situations with extreme walk rates. Thus, I have also presented a “corrected” version (in the style of Full-1, with initial baserunners and batting outs as the definitions for the A and C factors respectively; it is “F-1W” in the table) in which the walk is given a coefficient of .025--I chose this number haphazardly, and you could very well improve it. However, my primary objective here is just to clean up the obvious problems caused by assigning a negative advancement value to the walk. This requires some juggling of the other B coefficients, and the linear weights that it generates when applied to our long-term stats will no longer be the same as the target linear weights (the modified Ruane weights). This is unfortunate, but it also is necessary in this case to avoid having a negative weight for the walk:

A = H + W - HR + HB

B = .719S + 2.098D + 3.408T + 1.887HR + .025(W - IW) - .613IW + .109HB + .895SB - 1.211CS + .121(AB - H - K - DP) - .061K - 1.701DP + .769SH + 1.155SF

C = AB - H + SH + SF

Here is a comparison of the target weights (“Ruane”), the weights generated by this equation (“Result”), and the difference (Result-Ruane):

Thus, we still have a pretty decent match for the target weights, with the walk not surprisingly as the biggest source of error.

Let me close this out by also presenting a formula that only looks at the basic events, and matches these weights that we derived last time:

LW = .473S + .769D + 1.050T + 1.418HR + .304W + .192SB - .265CS - .088(AB - H)

I have two versions here; one is with initial baserunners (which I will call B1, where iA is H + W - HR) and one with final baserunners (which I will call B2, where fA is H + W - HR - CS):

B1 = .764S + 2.169D + 3.503T + 1.985HR - .039W + .912SB - 1.258CS + .036(AB - H)

B2 = .762S + 2.247D + 3.658T + 2.098HR - .087W + .964SB + .283CS + .032(AB - H)

Finally, I apologize for any formatting errors in this post. Blogger seems to have changed its text editor, and when I copy and past from Word, it leaves just one space after a period. This annoys me as a reader, but it is a real pain in the burro to go back and add all of the necessary spaces.

EDIT: Well isn't this lovely? Now it messed up the formatting for the entire front page. If Blogger can't make their editor workable for people who aren't HTML experts, then I'm going to have to go elsewhere. I'm a poor enough writer as it is; I don't need to have a blogging platform make my posts look like they were formatted by a future Michigan alum trying to pass kindergarten on his third attempt.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Run Estimation Stuff, pt. 1

This series will revolve around my attempt to make a new Base Runs (for those living in a sabermetric cave, Base Runs is the multiplicative run estimator developed by David Smyth) formula that is based only on the official offensive stats, but that includes all of the official stats. As such, it breaks no new ground, it regurgitates a bunch of stuff about run estimators that you already know, and will generally infuriate those people who say “Enough with all of the run estimators already! Quit beating that dead horse and get on to more important stuff like whatever my personal matter of interest is.” This is not a bad thing; while it is true that there has been a lot of progress made on run estimators and offensive evaluation in general, and that what I am doing here is definitely old hat, it just happens to be one of the things that I am interested in, and so I will continue to dabble in it. If you’re not interested, or think you already know what you need to know on the subject, great.

Incidentally, I’ve had this sitting here for a while now, but I decided to run it today after reading Tango’s post on BsR, RC, and Bill James at Inside the Book.

Part one will focus on establishing a long-term set of Linear Weight values that can be used as a basis for the Base Run formulas. Part two will discuss building those Base Run formulas, and part three will be a little bit about their accuracy.

To start out with, we need a good set of Linear Weight values. The best way to generate LW values, particularly as a starting point (we can’t use Base Runs to estimate them, since we are trying to build a BsR formula based on them), is empirically by measuring the change in run expectancy for each play. The linear weight of a given event is then just the average change in run expectancy for plays of that type.

One can figure LW in this manner through Retrosheet data with the requisite technical skills, but luckily, we don’t need to do that. Tom Ruane has published empirical LW for each league, 1960-2004("The Value Added Approach to Evaluating Performance" by Tom Ruane, available from the "Research Papers" link under Features). He used only the official categories, and he used all of them, which means that they are perfect for our purposes.

To get a long-term set of coefficients, I weighted each year’s figures by the league PA for that year. This process produces these weights (I carried the coefficients to three decimal places as that is how Ruane presented them):

LW = .458S + .754D + 1.035T + 1.403HR + .302(W - IW) + .172IW + .327HB + .192SB - .427CS - .232(AB - H - K - DP) - .271K - .785DP - .093SH - .010SF

There is a slight problem, which is that these weights do not add up to zero when applied to the composite stats for the period. In order to fix this, I found the shortfall per PA, and then added this to all of the events that represent a PA (in other words, all except stolen base attempts). This adds about .002 to each event, so the new weights look quite similar:

LW = .460S + .756D + 1.037T + 1.405HR + .304(W - IW) + .174IW + .329HB + .192SB - .427CS - .230(AB - H - K - DP) - .269K - .783DP - .091SH - .008SF

These now sum to zero for the period as a whole as we would expect (I have included a chart at the bottom of the post with the weights as well as the frequency of each event in the period). Obviously, these are baselined against an average player; for our purposes we need the absolute runs formula. Converting them is a very simple process. First, we need to find the runs per out (AB - H + DP + SH + SF in this case) for the period. The R/O is .162.

The R/O is then added to all of the events that include an out, and twice to DPs, since obviously those include two outs. We now have these coefficients:

LW = .460S + .756D + 1.037T + 1.405HR + .304(W - IW) + .174IW + .329HB + .192SB - .260CS - .068(AB - H - DP - K) - .107K - .459DP + .071SH + .154SF

Finally, I will use Ruane’s weights to work out a formula that includes only the basic offensive data (AB, H, D, T, HR, W, SB, CS). First, we can eliminate IW by finding the weighted average of IW and unintentional walks (.292 runs). The outs are easily taken care of by finding the weighted average for the three AB-H events (K, DP, and neither), which is -.088.

Still left to be dealt with are HB, SH, and SF. Since we are treating these as non-events, there is no pre-existing category that they can be folded into, and we are short a bunch of runs because we have pretended they don’t exist. The way I will address this is by adding the shortfall per PA (under our new definition of PA, AB + W) to each PA event (again, everything but stolen base attempts). This adds .004 to each event and gives these weights:

LW = .464S + .760D + 1.041T + 1.409HR + .296W + .192SB - .265CS - .084(AB - H)

The alternative way that we could do this is add the excess only to the hits and walks, which will actually work just a little better in practice (in terms of RMSE for the teams in our sample), so we can look at those as well:

LW = .473S + .769D + 1.050T + 1.418HR + .304W + .192SB - .265CS - .088(AB - H)

Monday, June 09, 2008

1879 NL

1879 was a crucial year for the National League. After enduring yet another multiple franchise loss (Indianapolis and Milwaukee), Hulbert acted decisively to stabilize the league and destabilize its chief rival (not in the sense of a competing major league, but rather a different way to organize professional clubs), the International Association, by expanding to eight teams. The biggest coup was pilfering the IA of its top two teams in 1878, Buffalo and Syracuse. Also added were Troy, the strognest club in the New York State Association, and Cleveland, a respectable independent club (32-20 in 1878) that had the added bonus of represented a sizeable city. With three of the additions being in the east, the NL re-established itself as a national circuit rather than a predominately midwestern one (although it remained on the outside looking in of major eastern cities like New York and Philadelphia).

With the larger configuration, the schedule was expanded from 60 games to 84, which also allowed NL clubs to be less reliant on exhibitions with non-league teams for revenue. David Nemec cites this season as the one in which playing in the National League gained a special status, a “major league” feel, due largely to these changes.

The playing rules got their customary annual tweak. The Spalding ball, manufactured of course by Al Spalding, became the official league ball. Fouls had to be caught on the fly, rather than on the first bound, and pitchers could now be fined for intentionally hitting batters (although the batter did not yet earn first base for his trouble). The width of the pitcher’s box was reduced from six feet to four, pitchers could not turn their back completely during a delivery, and every bad pitch was called a ball, rather than every third. Since the number of balls needed for a walk went to nine rather than three, this rule did not affect the game, but it brought practice closer to modern standards. The first batter in the next inning was now the next batter in the order who had not completed a plate appearance, rather than the one that followed the last man retired. Finally, batters were now automatically out if the catcher made a clean catch on strike three. This encouraged catchers to play closer to the plate.

The disappointing Chicago White Stockings looked as if they would get redemption; they got off to a 6-0 start and led the race into August. At that point, though, their new manager and star Cap Anson was sidelined by a liver illness, and Chicago fell out of the race, leaving it to natural rivals Boston and Providence. Providence was now skippered by George Wright, who was not on the same outfit with brother Harry for the first time in at least a decade.

The schedule set up perfectly, as the two teams were set to play the final six games of the season head-to-head starting on September 23. The Grays entered the series with a three game lead over the Red Caps, so Boston would need to take five to capture their third straight pennant. They got the first game 7-3, but game two on the 25th and game three the next day went to the Grays, 15-4 and 7-6. Providence would win two of the remaining three games for a victorious margin of five.

Only Syracuse left the league at the end of the season, making for the most stable off-season in terms of franchise intrigue yet.


Providence led the league in both EW% and PW%. Chicago declined in terms of those two gauges, but this time they managed to outplay them under new skipper Cap Anson. All of the returning teams, plus Buffalo, managed to finish above .500 and were separated top to bottom by fourteen games, while the new entries from Cleveland, Syracuse, and Troy were seventeen games behind the bottom team in that pack, Cincinnati.

In 1879, the league hit .255/.271/.329 for a .094 SEC, with 5.31 runs and 24.60 outs per game.


George Wright won the pennant in his first (and only) season as a big league manager. The Grays were helped when he brought Jim O’Rourke with him from Beantown; they also added Chicago’s Joe Start, and brought Mike McGeary and Bobby Mathews back into the league after they were absent in 1878. They were the only team in the league to have two good pitchers--Boston had one great pitcher and one solid but below-average pitcher; Buffalo had two average pitchers. The Grays’ #2 pitcher, Bobby Mathews, actually had a slightly better ARA than Monte Ward, a luxury no one else had in 1879.

Despite the pennant, attendance in Providence was poor, averaging around 1,000 per game. The big draws were games with Boston, the natural geographic rivals in addition to being their chief pennant challenger.

This was Wright’s only season because as a manager because he would retire at the end of the season to tend to his sporting goods business. While he would pull a Michael Jordan, he was never again the same player


The Red Caps were hurt by the defections of George Wright and Jim O’Rourke to Providence. Bringing Charley Jones in from Cincinnati helped to offset his loss, and Ed Cogswell, Curry Foley, Sadie Houck, and especially Jim’s brother John O’Rourke were productive rookie finds. John was actually a year older than Jim, but was making his NL debut at age thirty. The WAR battle in the family went to Jim, but only +4.0 to +3.8.

Once again, Harry Wright was forced to play musical chairs with his infield; this time, Morrill and Sutton moved back to their 1877 positions, with rookie Cogswell manning first base.


The Bisons had a very solid debut season, illustrating historians’ claims that the earliest NL teams were not significantly stronger than the top independent and IA clubs. It is not surprising when considering the fact that the 1878 Bisons beat every team in the National League in exhibition play, with an overall record of 10-7 (Joe Overfield, SABR’s Road Trips). For the second year in a row, John Clapp was the manager for a first year team (he led the Indianapolis Blues in 1878). His team was composed of NL rookies except for himself, Chick Fulmer and Bill Crowley (each former Louisville Grays), Dave Eggler (last with the White Stockings in 1877), and Davy Force, who last played with St. Louis in 1877.

Captain Force opposed the Bisons’ move to the NL, and even wrote a letter to team management espousing his position; his main objection was the financial turmoil often present in the NL. One wonders if there was not a tiny bit of self-preservation involved; after all, his offensive production was pretty putrid.


While the promising season was derailed by Anson’s illness, he earned the respect of the brass including Al Spalding in a way that his predecessor Bob Ferguson could not. According to Bill James in the 1990 Baseball Book, Anson was involved in an argument with an umpire one day when Spalding decided to come onto the field to put his two cents in. Anson shifted his focus and went off on Spalding. When Spalding refused to leave the field, Cap “reminded” the ump that he could forfeit the game. At that point, Spalding left.

His club was bolstered by a wholesale raid of defunct Indianapolis that netted Silver Flint, Joe Quest, Ed Williamson, and Orator Shaffer (combined 8.9 WAR). Two players plucked from Milwaukee (ex-White Stocking John Peters and Abner Dalrymple) added another 3.6 wins, and rookie George Gore took over capably in center field.

Unfortunately, top starter Terry Larkin was hit by a line drive and was never the same, only appearing in five games with Providence in 1880. His personal life did not have a happy ending, either; some sources cite the line drive as a contributor to his future madness (he shot his wife in 1883 and later tried to duel with a saloon owner), but I find that a little hard to swallow.


The Reds installed Deacon White as manager, replacing Cal McVey. White signed Ross Barnes, out of the NL in 1878, to play shortstop; Will Foley was brought back after one year in Milwaukee to replace the big loss of Charley Jones. White’s tenure was short and rocky; first, he infuriated powerful local sportswriter O.P. Caylor by hiring his own brother-in-law as scorer instead of Caylor. Caylor ripped him for moves like releasing pitcher Bobby Mitchell, leaving brother Will as the team’s only starter (he wound up tossing 680 of the team’s 726 innings and pitching 75 complete games out of the 81 they played).

White was removed after sixteen games while the team was on its first east coast trip, and McVey was put back in charge. That did not stop the soap opera, though, as rookie shortstop Mike Burke (who had lost his job to Barnes) fought with McVey in public view on the field after his release. The Reds’ salary structure (McVey, Deacon White, and Barnes all made $2,000 while the other players made $800) was blamed for the dissension by some observers. Joe Gerhardt, one of the better second baseman in the league in 1878, saw his production plummet (+2.1 to -.2 WAR). At the end of the campaign, all players were released and the franchise withdrew from the NL, only to be quickly replaced by another Cincinnati club.

Also gone from the scene was Cal McVey, who was done in the NL at age 30 despite a solid +1.7 WAR season. McVey moved to California and there are sketchy details of him playing for various western teams in the 1880s. He had played for a number of significant teams--the original Red Stockings of 1869, the 1872, 74, and 75 pennant winning Red Caps, and the 1876 White Stockings that won the NL’s first pennant.


Ohio and New York became the first states ever to have multiple National League teams (New York with three) with the addition of Buffalo, Cleveland, Syracuse, and Troy. The Blues fielded a team comprised largely of NL rookies. Only McCormick and Warner (Indianapolis), Carey (Providence), and Mitchell (Cincinnati) had played in the NL in 1878. Charlie Eden had been a reserve for the White Stockings in 1877.

According to David Nemec, July 19’s game between Cleveland and Boston, matching Bobby Mathews against Curry Foley, was the first NL game in which each team had a southpaw starting pitcher.


The Stars had a higher W% in the 1878 IA than the Bisons, but Buffalo won the pennant as the rules called for the team with the most wins to be the champion. Their bad fortune continued when their former league-mates emerged as a quality club while the Stars stumbled their way to a 22-48 record. The makeup of the team was apparently mostly the same as the 1878 IA entry; only Bill Holbert (Milwaukee) had played in the NL in 1878, and manager Mike Dorgan’s 1877 stint in St. Louis was the only other league experience among regulars.

A couple of interesting anecdotes on this team come from Lloyd Johnson and Brenda Ward in the Bill James Encyclopedia program. One is that “Blondie” Purcell was so called because he used peroxide on his hair. The RF/P would wind up in Cincinnati by the end of the year. The other is that Dorgan was a key part of the Star teams of 1876 and 1878, but “his marriage in 1879 broke up the jolly team of bachelors and was the social event of the year in Syracuse”. Perhaps that is the cause of Syracuse’s flop in the NL.

Regardless of what it was, Syracuse had trouble supporting a team from the start. Management attempted to get an exemption from the mandatory fifty-cent admission charge, but was unsuccessful. On September 11, the team disbanded, having played only 71 games of the 84 game schedule.


The Trojans brought in Bob Ferguson, the White Stockings’ failed skipper of 1878, to manage a team made up largely of players culled from IA teams. Ferguson only gave himself 127 PA, although his 99 ARG and +.6 WAR was much better than what regular third baseman Herm Doscher produced. The only regular besides Ferguson with NL experience was pitcher George Bradley, last seen with Chicago in 1877.

That the team survived is a bit surprising; the other small city NL club, Syracuse, did not survive, and Troy averaged only around 400 patrons. They were hurt by the loss of their traditional rivalry with Albany, a club which had also applied for NL membership but was rejected.

Interesting to note here is the performance of the two first baseman: 23 year old Aaron Clapp and 21 year old Dan Brouthers, each rookies. Brouthers got 169 PA and Clapp got 152; Brouthers hit for a slightly better average (seven points) and a lot more power (.155 ISO to .103), but Clapp drew more walks and their overall offensive production were essentially the same (111 ARG). Brouthers comes out a bit better in value metrics due to his extra PA. After 1879, their career paths would diverge greatly. Clapp would never again play in the major leagues, and Brouthers…well, we’ll see his exploits in later installments.

Leaders and trailers:
1. Paul Hines, PRO (.357)
2. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (.348)
3. King Kelly, CIN (.348)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.136)
Trailing non-pitcher: Barney Gilligan, CLE (.171)
1. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (.371)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (.369)
3. Charley Jones, BSN (.367)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.153)
Trailing non-pitcher: Barney Gilligan, CLE (.171)
1. John O’Rourke, BSN (.521)
2. Charley Jones, BSN (.510)
3. King Kelly, CIN (.493)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.156)
Trailing non-pitcher: Bill Holbert, SYR (.201)
1. Charley Jones, BSN (.276)
2. Ed Williamson, CHN (.228)
3. John O’Rourke, BOS (.205)
Trailer: Bill Holbert, SYR (.004)
Holbert’s secondary contributions amounted to just one solitary walk in 245 PA. I believe that this is the lowest Secondary Average of all-time.
1. Paul Hines, PRO (90)
2. Charley Jones, BSN (82)
3. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (79)
4. King Kelly, CIN (76)
5. John O’Rourke, BSN (70)
1. Charley Jones, BSN (173)
2. John O’Rourke, BSN (171)
3. Paul Hines, PRO (168)
4. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (165)
5. King Kelly, CIN (162)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (21)
Trailing non-pitcher: Barney Gilligan, CLE (51)
1. Charley Jones, BSN (+3.2)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+3.2)
3. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (+2.7)
4. John O’Rourke, BSN (+2.7)
5. King Kelly, CIN (+2.5)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (-3.7)
Trailing non-pitcher player: Joe Gerhardt, CIN (-1.8)
1. Paul Hines, PRO (+4.6)
2. Charley Jones, BSN (+4.5)
3. Jim O’Rourke, PRO (+4.0)
4. King Kelly, CIN (+3.9)
5. Ed Williamson, CHN (+3.8)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (-1.3)
Trailing non-pitcher: Hick Carpenter, SYR (-.7)
I have included pitchers in the trailer lists because, unlike today where you have a five man rotation and pitchers generally only get two or three PAs a game, at this time you had one pitcher, pitching a majority of your games and completing most of those. Pitchers got enough PA to qualify (I have been using 200 as a the minimum), so why not include them? White’s hitting was horrid, and that cost the Reds real games (White had a 21 ARG; the next lowest pitcher was his ex-teammate, Bobby Mitchell of Cleveland, who put up a 36, and did it in 145 less outs.)
1. Tommy Bond, BSN (62)
2. Monte Ward, PRO (73)
3. Will White, CIN (91)
Trailer: Blondie Purcell, SYR (159)
1. Tommy Bond, BSN (+6.3)
2. Monte Ward, PRO (+4.7)
3. Will White, CIN (+1.7)
Trailer: Blondie Purcell, SYR (-3.1)
1. Monte Ward, PRO (+7.4)
2. Tommy Bond, BOS (+7.4)
3. Pud Galvin, BUF (+2.4)
Trailer: Bobby Mitchell, CLE (-3.0)

My all-star team:
C: Deacon White, CIN
1B: Joe Start, PRO
2B: Chick Fulmer, BUF
3B: King Kelly, CIN/Ed Williamson, CHN
SS: George Wright, PRO
LF: Charley Jones, BSN
CF: Paul Hines, PRO
RF: Jim O’Rourke, PRO
P: Tommy Bond, BSN/Monte Ward, PRO
MVP: CF Paul Hines, PRO/LF Charley Jones, BSN
Rookie Hitter: CF John O’Rourke, BSN
Rookie Pitcher: Pud Galvin, BUF

At second base, Chick Fulmer and Jack Farrell each had 1.9 WAR. Palmer’s FR had Farrell at -14 and Fulmer at +18, making this an easy choice. At third, Kelly was +3.9 WAR and Williamson +3.8; in FR, they were +10 and +18, respectively. If you take the FR as equally reliable to the batting figures, that would make Williamson more valuable; I don’t, but it’s more than enough to make it a tie in my book.

The choice at pitcher between Bond and Ward comes down to the choice between superior pitching and superior hitting. Bond beat Ward in pitching WAA 6.3 to 4.7, but Ward’s hitting would have provided value at any position (57 RC, 109 ARG). In the end, they are close--if you want to view this as a pitching-only honor, than Bond is your man. In terms of overall value, I see it as too close to call.

I also split the baby on the MVP question. Hines’ 4.6 WAR was slightly better than Jones’ 4.5, but remember that all outfielders have been lumped together, with no recognition that Hines played center and Jones played a corner. In Palmer’s FR, Jones was +13 and Hines was +5; but again, Hines’ status as a center fielder can’t be ignored. When dealing with things so far in the past with limited information, I think it’s best to err on the side of caution, and I have done that with these choices.

Monday, June 02, 2008

1878 NL

It has been some time since I posted an entry in this series; this is due to some computer issues that I had. In the downtime, I decided to change a couple of things. One is that I am using different abbreviations for a few of the teams; for example, Boston is now “BSN” and Chicago is “CHN”. This is just to be consistent with the abbreviations that I would use for the same clubs in the American League era. Also, pitcher Adjusted Run Average is now inverted as the individual RA divided by the league RA. This is inconsistent with the first two entries, but it also makes mathematical sense. I was aware when I started this series of the fact that ERA+ and its cousins have to be weighted by earned runs, not innings, but I did not deem it enough of an issue to use the less conventional form. Recently, I have been converted by some persuasive arguments and having seen evidence of the resulting confusion in action, and so I have used the more logical version here. I have also made use of a new (to this series) source, James Charlton’s Baseball Chronology, hosted at Baseball Library.

If you need a refresher on the methods I’m using, or the events of 1876 and 1877, all of the posts in this series are linked on the right side of the page.

The National League was in a state of flux entering the 1878 campaign. The great Louisville scandal of 1877 had not helped with public confidence in the game, and of course had led to the demise of the Grays, one of the league’s stronger teams on the field. Additionally, St. Louis and Hartford bit the dust, leaving the NL with just three members.

Hulbert went to work and was able to scrounge up three new clubs. Independent teams from Milwaukee and Indianapolis further enhanced the NL’s midwestern feel, while Providence was snatched from the International Association (the independent league that represented the biggest threat to the NL). The league was continued to be locked out of major eastern markets like New York and Philadelphia, with only Boston and Providence in the circuit.

The rule changes were fairly minor. Substitute runners, only permitted in cases of injury, were now further confined to only being available once the runner had actually reached base (it is foreign to a present-day fan to imagine an injured Kirk Gibson at the plate with another Dodger standing a few feet away, ready to run as soon as he made contact). The opposing captains determined the order in which the teams would bat with a coin flip called by the home team. Turnstiles were now used to record official attendance and determine the visitor’s share of the gate.

On May 8, Paul Hines of Providence may or may not have turned the first unassisted triple play (and only one ever by an outfielder) in major league history. Playing shallow behind shortstop, he caught a fly, then ran and stepped on third to retire the runners from second and third who had already rounded the base. He then threw to second to ensure that the runner from second was retired, and between confusion about the ruling and rules of the day, it is not entirely clear whether it was actually an unassisted triple play or not (the current consensus is no). The next day, Sam Weaver of the Milwaukee Grays may or may not have pitched a 2-1 no-hitter against the fellow rookie entry Indianapolis Blues; some scorers credited a hit to Indianapolis’ John Clapp, while others did not. In either case, it was the first NL victory for Milwaukee.

The pennant race was not particularly exciting; while Boston’s four game margin over Cincinnati was the smallest in the three years of the league, the Red Caps seemingly had it control most of the way. After the season, Milwaukee and Indianapolis would leave the league, leaving Hulbert in the lurch once again.


The Red Caps probably have the worst PW% ever for a pennant winner, but again, those figures should be viewed with all sorts of red flags. The White Stockings played well under both their EW% and PW%; perhaps there was something to the criticisms of new manager Bob Ferguson by Al Spalding (see below)? The two weaker newcomers brought up the rear, but were not terrible clubs in terms of underlying performance (although the Grays’ record was quite poor).

In 1878, the league hit .259/.279/.319, for a .086 SEC, 5.17 runs and 24.08 outs per game.


The Red Caps’ second consecutive pennant ran their impressive string to six out of seven, broken only by Chicago’s triumph in 1876. Harry Wright was able to shuffle his infield around after losing 1B Deacon White, his most valuable player in 1877, to the Reds. Morrill moved across the diamond from third to White’s vacant spot, while Ezra Sutton moved to third, George Wright returned to short, and Jack Burdock was picked up from defunct Hartford to play second. Pop Snyder, late of Louisville, replaced Lew Brown behind the plate, and Jack Manning returned from Cincinnati to play right field.

The Red Caps relied almost exclusively on their nine regulars. Reserve Harry Schaefer played two games in the outfield; every other inning was manned by one of the regular nine, with Manning pitching the eleven innings that Bond did not. The unprecedented iron-team performance may have been a reason why the seemingly unimpressive stats of the Red Caps were parlayed into a pennant.

When Harry Wright sought to sign Snyder, he sent a letter to NL secretary Nick Young asking permission. Young approved, but told him that his offer of $1,500 was too generous, and instead suggested a salary of $1,280. Part of the justification was that the other league clubs did not need a catcher; the other part was an evaluation of Snyder’s financial wherewithal:

“Not loaded down with brains…like to receive a large sum more for the name…than…the judicious use of it. It comes and goes, and at the end of the season they are hard up as usual, and have little or no idea what has become of it, unless, perchance, some one has induced him to invest in a large gold watch.” (from letter to Wright, quoted in Voight’s American Baseball, pg. 74)


The Reds shot from two consecutive cellar finishes to second on the strength of some savvy rookie finds (Chub Sullivan, Billy Geer, Buttercup Dickerson, and King Kelly) worth a total of 3.8 WAR and four big “free agent” signings (the White brothers from Boston (although Will was a rookie with only 27 previous innings), Cal McVey from Chicago, and Joe Gerhardt from the remains of Louisville), worth a total of 7.3 WAR. Combined with solid outfield holdover Charley Jones, Cincinnati had its first contender. Lip Pike was released mid-season to clear room for Dickerson.

Deacon and Will became the first all-brother battery; although they were each Red Caps in 1877, Will only worked three games in the box and Deacon only caught seven, so even if they did work together then, they were not regulars by any stretch.


The Grays proved to be a worthy addition to the league, and a valuable team to pluck away from the rival IA, although much of their talent was procured from other league rosters. Among the regulars, only Sweasy and Higham could have been holdovers, as each had not played in the NL in 1877. Others were plucked from fellow New England teams; Lew Brown and Tim Murnane were taken from Boston, while Tom Carey and Tom York were picked up from defunct Hartford. The biggest coup was signing star centerfielder Paul Hines away from Chicago.

The team began the season with Tricky Nichols, late of St. Louis as their pitcher, but he was replaced by eighteen-year old rookie Monte Ward on July 15, and from that point on the youngster tossed every inning.


The White Stockings continued to flounder in the wake of their 1876 pennant. Ross Barnes and George Bradley were out of the league, while Cal McVey, John Peters, and Paul Hines all jumped ship. Al Spalding retired from playing, although he became a fixture (and later owner) in the front office. Bob Ferguson was brought in from Hartford to play third and manage, and with him came Bill Harbridge, Joe Start, John Cassidy, and Terry Larkin, the bulk of the reconstituted team’s productivity. Jack Remsen came from defunct St. Louis, while McClelland and Hankinson were rookies.

While Ferguson was the team’s most valuable player, his management was considered to leave something to be desired; Spalding called him “tactless” and “deficient [in] the subtle science of handling men by strategy rather than by force” (Nemec, pg 113). His sole year as Chicago manager was marked by wild underachievement of what looked on paper to be the league’s strongest team.

On September 23, the team played an exhibition game billed as the “Chicagos of 1879”, using Silver Flint and Ed Williamson of Indianapolis, who had already signed for next season.


The Blues and their “expansion” brethren Milwaukee Grays were the only NL teams to finish below .500 in a year, but with a .400 record, they were respectable for a first-year entry. They also featured the league’s most valuable player and provided plenty of off-the-field intrigue.

The team featured seven rookie regulars out of ten; only Orator Shaffer (Louisville) and Art Croft and John Clapp (St. Louis) had substantial NL experience. Clapp was the manager, and moved himself from behind the plate to left field to accommodate rookie Silver Flint, who would develop a sterling defensive reputation.

According to Harold Seymour, the team was chosen for the NL on the basis of a rule that called for one team a year to be added automatically. The team chosen would be the one that won the most games from other teams that played under NL rules (essentially, recognized the autonomy of the National League). This rule was apparently only used in 1878, and even had there not been a rule, the league would have had to scramble to find a sixth team.

Owner William Pettit acquired a number of his players in a raid on the Guleph (Canada) Maple Leafs, but this spending spree landed him in debt by the end of the season, and he fled Indiana to avoid his creditors. Surprising no one, the team folded.

Meanwhile, Blues management had its hands full with rookie pitcher Edward Nolan, better known by his sobriquet “The Only”. In June he was suspended on suspicion of throwing games, but was cleared only to be suspended again on August 17. This time, the offence was sending himself a telegram from his non-existent brother Bill to get time off. He spend his off day with “a beautiful habituĂ© of an avenue assignation house, who has ruined more men in this city than she can count on the jeweled fingers of both her hands” (Indianapolis Journal, quoted in The Ball Clubs, pg. 267). Nolan was resourceful; he used his suspension to take the, uh, gal to New York. Indianapolis may have been better off just letting fellow rookie Jim McCormick pitch, but where would the fun be in that?


The Grays had two regulars with significant major league experience: John Peters, last with Chicago, and Will Foley, last with Cincinnati. Impressively, two of the rookies they unearthed, Charlie Bennett and Abner Dalrymple, would have significant careers; Dalrymple was already their best player.

John Kaine, the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel, was the owner of the team. It nearly folded in late June before being sold on July 2 to William P. Rogers in the midst of a fifteen game losing streak. As a response to the team’s terrible play (and perhaps bitterness over his failed investment?), Kaine refused to publish game accounts for the remainder of the team’s short life, printing only game scores.

The team nearly went on strike at the end of August for not being paid. Johnny Peters, Mike Golden, and Joe Ellick brought the team up on formal charges before the NL, feeling that they never had gotten what they were owed. Rogers disputed the charges, but the Grays were given twenty days to pay their debts and withdraw from the league. Rogers supposedly walked out of the meeting to attend an opera.

Leaders and trailers:
1. Paul Hines, PRO (.358)
2. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (.354)
3. Bob Ferguson, CHN (.351)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.142)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.158)
1. Bob Ferguson, CHN (.375)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.372)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.369)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.205)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.176)
1. Paul Hines, PRO (.486)
2. Tom York, PRO (.465)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.455)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.157)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.185)
1. Tom York, PRO (.186)
2. Lew Brown, PRO (.177)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.165)
Trailer: Tommy Bond, BSN (.025)
Trailing non-pitcher: Pop Snyder, BSN (.027)
1. Joe Start, CHN (58)
2. Orator Shaffer, IND (57)
3. Paul Hines, PRO (56)
4. Cap Anson, CHN (54)
5. Tom York, PRO (54)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (181)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (168)
3. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (157)
4. Cap Anson, CHN (154)
5. Joe Start, CHN (152)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (29)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (41)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (+2.4)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+1.8)
3. Bob Ferguson, CHN (+1.7)
4. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (+1.6)
5. Deacon White, CHN (+1.5)
Trailer: Art Croft, IND (-2.7)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (+3.6)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+2.9)
3. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (+2.8)
4. Bob Ferguson, CHN (+2.7)
5. Cal McVey, CIN (+2.6)
Trailer: Art Croft, IND (-1.3)
1. Monte Ward, PRO (73)
2. Tommy Bond, BSN (84)
3. Terry Larkin, CHN (89)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (182)
1. Monte Ward, PRO (+2.8)
2. Tommy Bond, BSN (+2.7)
3. Terry Larkin, CHN (+1.7)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (-4.0)
1. Tommy Bond, BSN (+4.2)
2. Terry Larkin, CHN (+3.8)
3. Monte Ward, PRO (+3.1)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (-4.4)

My all-star team:
C: Deacon White, CIN
1B: Joe Start, CHN
2B: Jack Burdock, BSN
3B: Cal McVey, CIN
SS: Bob Ferguson, CHN
LF: Abner Dalrymple, MIL
CF: Paul Hines, PRO
RF: Orator Shaffer, IND
P: Tommy Bond, BSN
MVP: RF Orator Shaffer, IND
Rookie Hitter: LF Abner Dalrymple, MIL
Rookie Pitcher: Monte Ward, PRO

I went with Jack Burdock at second base over Joe Gerhardt and John Peters on the basis of his 21 Fielding Runs (Pete Palmer’s figures in the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia). The aforementioned Encyclopedia gave their ex post facto MVP honors to Paul Hines; as always, it must be emphasized that they are attempting to predict who would have won, which is a different question than who should have won it.